IQSS has encouraged and allowed researchers to think more expansively and take on projects that would have been impossible otherwise. The transformational impact of IQSS is demonstrated in the following examples:
photo credit: Ken Banks, kiwanja.net
Helping Treat Malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa
Professor Caroline Buckee worked with the IQSS Data Science Services team to analyze cell phone data from 15 million individuals over the course of a year to track the spread of malaria. The data analysis detailed the movement of individuals through sub-Saharan Africa and beyond to track the spread of malaria and recognize the origin of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which informs the individuals and organizations in Africa who can provide tools to prevent further spread of the disease.
The Right to Vote
The right to vote rests on the eligibility of each voter, which is determined by voter registration lists kept by each state. However, the poor quality of these lists puts the right to vote at risk. To fix this problem would require figuring out how to study all 187 million registered voters from every state. The untenable data requirements of a systematic analysis had limited previous analyses, such as one-off studies of small numbers of people or places. IQSS-affiliated faculty members and graduate students tackled the problem and studied all 187 million registered voters. They found that one third of voters listed by states as “inactive” actually cast ballots, and that the problem is not politically neutral. The researchers subsequently worked with state and local election officials to identify specific ways to improve the accuracy and currency of voter files, such as improved algorithms for matching voter files to other lists to verify information on the voter files.
In the Emergency Room
A large hospital recently considered changing how patients are treated in the emergency room. A PhD student at IQSS questioned if a new way of processing incoming patients would reduce the length of time those patients spend in the emergency room. IQSS worked with the PhD student to create a study to investigate the issue and found that the average patient’s length of stay was reduced under the new process, benefitting patients and health providers alike.
IQSS helped reverse-engineer the huge censorship program in China, providing real ways of predicting in advance where China’s leaders may next crack down on civil and human rights in real life and in cyberspace. This involved monitoring 1,400 Chinese social media outlets in real time, downloading all social media posts before the government could censor them, and then from a network of computers around the world, go back to each post to see if it had been censored. IQSS researchers discovered, contrary to what had been conventional wisdom, that China does not censor criticism of the government, government leaders, or their policies; rather, they censor any attempt at collective action against the government, its leaders, or policies.
Dataverse is a leading example of IQSS’ data science development efforts. It is open source software that allows users to archive, share, reference, extract, and analyze research data. Widely adopted, it now offers access to more social science research data than any other system in the world, facilitating the sharing of information while also ensuring researchers are credited for their work and data is kept secure where necessary.
IQSS is comprised of faculty and students representing nearly every school within Harvard, plus visiting scholars, fellows, and postdocs from institutions across the globe. These scholars are supported by a staff of more than 50 dedicated IT professionals, administrators, and support personnel. The strength of our community is derived from our philosophy of collaboration: the more information we share, the better the social science research and the more likely it is that we will be able to fix some of the world’s most complex social problems. Join us in our efforts!